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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Preview of the GOP Convention; Preparations for Tropical Storm Isaac; Interview with Reince Priebus; Interview with Martin O'Malley

Aired August 26, 2012 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN HOST: I'm Candy Crowley in Tampa, where Tropical Storm Isaac has delayed the Republican National Convention at least for a day. Right now, we are waiting for the beginning of a briefing with Florida Governor Rick Scott. He, of course, is in charge of the state's storm preparations. A state of emergency has already been declared here in Florida. I'm joined now by my colleagues, Wolf Blitzer, Jim Acosta. Thanks for joining me in the noon hour.

Woe be to the governor that isn't ready for a natural disaster that hits his state. So far as I can tell, he has been out there and out front and talking about it.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT That's right. I mean, if you're the governor of a state when a hurricane is on its way, it's probably a good idea to be at command central rather than at the Republican convention.

And I don't think it's too surprising that Rick Scott has done this, and I don't think it's too surprising that the convention planners have decided to do this. Obviously safety has to come first.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: He's still hear in Tampa, but he's monitoring what's going on. He's basically canceled his convention-related activities to make sure this state is prepared for what could be a disaster.

CROWLEY: And you know, what we've found -- and I'm told -- here he is, Rick Scott. So let's hear what he has to say about the storm today, Hurricane Isaac. This is the governor of Florida.

RICK SCOTT, GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: All right. I guess it's afternoon now. Good afternoon. We've got individuals here. We've got the Tampa police chief, Castor (ph); we've got Tampa fire and EMS chief Forward (ph). We've got assistant commissioner of the FTLE (ph), Jim Madden.

We've got the chief -- deputy chief sheriff of Hillsborough County, Dakobo (ph). We've got General -- Adjutant General Titchow (ph) with the National Guard, we've got the Tampa EM coordinator, Chauncia Willis.

The -- so what we have been doing all week is making sure at the state, federal and local level that we gather all the information so everybody is working with the exact same information so we can make the best decisions around the state. And I know there's different issues in Tampa, but we've got to make sure we do this for the entire state of Florida. And we want to also make sure that we're coordinating all the state, federal and local resources. And that's what the effort has been all -- everybody involved has been doing all week. We've had -- we just finished our 11:15 briefing including federal, state and local RNC.

At 10:30 we had a briefing with the utilities around the state. They are very -- they are focused on making sure they have moved forward resources that they need, and they have done that. They've been deployed.

We are experiencing minor outages down in the southern part of the state. As you know, the tropical storm is starting to hit the Keys right now. The latest, it's still moving a little bit west as it comes up the coast. But the Keys are clearly going to get hit with tropical storm force winds. The -- and very heavy winds. The Panhandle will be -- still looks like we'll have landfall somewhere in the Panhandle.

The issue in the Panhandle is, especially because of Tropical Storm Debby, we are -- the land is still -- we're still saturated. So we have a big concern there about flooding.

Into Tampa, the biggest issue right now is the concern is going to be wind. But around the state, we've got rain. We've got wind. We've got storm surge. And then we've got the risk of tornadoes.

I personally have -- I canceled my activities for the RNC for today and tomorrow and I've done it for Tuesday. One thing locally in the Tampa area is if you're someone staying close to the beach, stay close to the beach. Don't start venturing into the Tampa side because you don't know what's going to happen as far as your ability to get home.

We've also asked locals to minimize travel. But we are going to have -- I'm very hopeful that the RNC will have a great convention.

Now, for everybody in our state, whether you're -- if you're a resident, you probably already know these things. Three days of food, three days of water. Have your medicines. Fill up your car. Be careful if there's standing water; don't go into it. If you see power lines down, call somebody. Don't deal with it yourself. Be very, very, very cautious.

As now with regard to the convention, we made sure that the delegates that are coming, they have information about how they should act around here with regard, because some of them have never been around a hurricane. Floridians, we deal with these things.

Now, as you've seen, the storm has been moving a little bit west. So we're not only worried about what's going to happen to Florida but now we might need to help other states, including -- we're a state that's dealt with hurricanes. We know how to do this. And if it ends up going further west, whether it's Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida will be ready to be helpful.

So at this point, any of us can take questions. I don't know if anybody wants to add anything.

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

SCOTT: All I know is they move forward Monday. You'd have to talk to the convention.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) safety, the resources that are necessary (inaudible)?

SCOTT: Well, what we try to do at the state and I think all of us is try to just make sure the convention and anybody having activities around the convention has -- they have all the information. So they can make an informed decision about those events.

But while we're -- on Monday, while we're getting the high winds here in the Tampa-St. Pete area, the people that are staying along the beach, it's just -- we think it's beneficial for them if they stay over this because of the risk of bridges closing, things like that, roads closing, flooding, things like that. And they're not going to be as knowledgeable.

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

SCOTT: What we've done is make sure they have all the information so they can make an informed decision. It's their decision.

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

SCOTT: I'm going to make -- I'll make my plans for tomorrow later today or first thing in the morning what I'm going to do.

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

SCOTT: Today. My plan is only today to be in Tampa.

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

SCOTT: Well, look. The convention was a big opportunity for the state to show what a great place it is to live, work and play. Now what they've learned -- what they're going to find out this week is we know how to deal with hurricanes. We're prepared. This is a state that knows how to deal with things.

On top of that, we're the best hospitality state around. We have 87 million tourists here a year. We know how to have conventions, we know how to have large events and we're going to do a great job.

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

SCOTT: I think -- look, everybody likes to come to Florida. So, you know, I'm sure that they're going to have a great convention. We're going to make sure -- our job -- and everybody up here has the same job: keep every resident and every visitor in our state safe. And we're going to make sure that happens. And we'll do everything we can to make sure they have a great time.

QUESTION: What kind of research are you making available to the local (inaudible)?

SCOTT: Sure. What we do is we go through, as part of our briefings twice a day, we go through all the counties and say what do you need? Right now as you know, we have some shelters opening around the state. We don't have a lot of people in our shelters yet.

But we have shelters opening. And so as we go through, every county tells us what their needs are. We work with the Red Cross, we work with the Salvation Army because they're running a lot of these shelters. So we just coordinate activities. Our utilities have moved individuals into the state. They've moved resources here. And we just make sure there's good coordination.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) South Florida and the Keys?

SCOTT: Yes, South Florida and the Keys primarily. But there's anticipation of outages. And so we're ready. That's why we -- the utilities forward deploy individuals to make sure that those outages aren't -- don't last very long. But there's anticipation of outages.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) about any type of damage that may have (inaudible) in the Keys? (Inaudible)?

SCOTT: They're going through it right now. I think the highest winds are going to be around 6:00 pm. Also, everybody always has to understand these storms, they change. You know, we watched Andrew 20 years ago. In the last hour, it changed direction. So but the -- right now, you know, there's no damage assessment. They'll be doing that once the winds come down.

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

SCOTT: Well, you know, look. This is a great state. People want to come to our state. We're going to make sure they have a great convention. And I'm very comfortable that it will end up being a great convention.

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

SCOTT: Sure. I spoke directly with Governor Romney twice yesterday and brought him up to speed. He was -- first off, his biggest concern was what's happening to the citizens of our state. He wanted to make sure that the 19 million citizens and everybody that's visiting our state is safe.

So we talked about that. We talked about our -- you know, emergency management efforts. So we talked about that and then he asked about what was happening in the Tampa area.

So I went through the things -- the same sort of briefing we're doing with the RNC as far as the anticipated storm surge, the wind, the issues with regard to what the wind -- what impact that would have on our bridges, what impact that would have on the use of buses, things like that.

QUESTION: Governor, can you (inaudible) temporary structures (inaudible)?

SCOTT: (Inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, those are things that we have talked about with the RNC. And some of the canvas has been taken off of the smaller tents, but the structures have been secured with sand barrels. And the larger tents are able to sustain winds higher than 40 miles an hour.

So those tents, the larger ones, are going to stay up unless the forecast changes. And then the smaller tents have been -- some of those have been taken down.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) what kind of challenges does that create in a -- ?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That doesn't create a challenge for us. The weather overall or the tent issue?

QUESTION: The tent issue and the high winds.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, the high winds -- you know, we are going to do exactly what the governor said, ensure that everyone is safe. Now, this is something that everyone from Florida deals with this time of year every year.

And there are a lot of visitors that aren't used to dealing with this, and so it's our job to communicate with them and provide them all of the information that's not necessarily the sustained winds, it's the gusts as well and the rain at some points will be driving.

So those are things that we are communicating with all of the visitors to the area and allowing them to make informed decisions. But as far as the police officers are concerned, we're going to be out on the street.

QUESTION: And how are you communicating with (inaudible) areas, making sure they know (inaudible)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have public address systems at our disposal, but right now it's person to person. There are officers throughout the downtown area, and we're making contact with individuals and groups and, you know, the large gathering, those people who have permitted parades and those types of things.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) so it's going to be (inaudible) on the streets?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, we're saying that when the weather gets -- right now, the track is moving further and further west. So as it is right now, there will be high winds and there will be rains, but it's not going to be something that's going to prohibit anyone from doing what they want to do out on the street.

If it changes, which is another issue that we're communicating to everyone, is that the only predictable issue of these storms is the unpredictability. If it changes and becomes an issue of public safety, then we will order people into safety, into shelter.

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. We're having -- I believe there's another update this afternoon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 6:00 pm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 6:00 pm.

SCOTT: We'll do a briefing -- we do a statewide briefing at 5:15, where we go through all the counties, federal, state and local. We'll make sure that we'll talk about what issues anyone's having. And then we'll do another briefing at 6:00 pm. And the intention is to stay here is and do this today.

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

SCOTT: We have -- FEMA's involved. There's -- already because of Debby, there were about 245 FEMA -- individuals with FEMA in the state. They were ready to bring an additional hundred in. And my understanding is they've brought some of those in already. So we have RC. We've got FEMA. We've got local officials, state officials, and we're at the state level. We're at level one.

So all the statewide agencies are activated 24 hours a day. And basically, the whole goal with all this is to keep the state safe, make sure that we have -- everybody has the best information. The National Hurricane Service is on. The National Weather Service.

And we're making sure, is anybody seeing something locally different than what we're seeing and our understanding? Because you can't expect people to make the same decision if they're using different information. So we coordinate all the information, the weather information, all that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) out-of-town law enforcement (inaudible)? What is the current situation? (Inaudible).

SCOTT: Well, we -- when -- I think it was two days ago, we went through to see who was going to come because some of the concern. We're fully staffed locally in law enforcement that we have for the state. The National Guard is ready to add more individuals if we need to. So we're ready to do that.

Once we know -- once we see where the track's going to be up north, if we need to provide resources to another state, then we'll have the resources to do that.

QUESTION: They won't get pulled from here?

SCOTT: No, they will not get pulled from here.

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

SCOTT: Oh, why, on the cancellation? I think every -- from my standpoint, my decision was made based on getting information and to watch where the storm was going, where I should use my time.

The RNC, what we kept doing is providing them information so they could make an informed decision. In my discussions with them, I said when do you -- what information do you need? And what -- when do you need to make a decision? And so they made their decision last night. So..

QUESTION: (Inaudible) --

CROWLEY (voice-over): That's Florida governor Rick Scott.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: We're going to continue to monitor this news conference for any news from him. He's giving them a couple of times a day. This storm, Tropical Storm Isaac actually is expected to make landfall somewhere in the Florida Keys. Our Jim Spellman is in Key West. We're going to go to him when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Candy Crowley. It's a special edition. We're covering two big stories here in Florida. One is the convention of the Republicans to nominate Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to be on the Republican part of the ticket come this fall.

And the other is a little tropical storm named Isaac. On the latter, we want to take you to where we think Isaac will first hit U.S. land, and that's with our Jim Spellman, down in Key West.

Jim, what can you tell me about what's going on down there?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure, excuse us, Candy, while we keep wiping the lens here. The rain has really picked up, and the wind has really picked up as well.

You can see these trees blowing around. A lot of businesses are like this, boarded up and shut. Authorities here encouraged all visitors to evacuate and pull out. But not everybody's listening.

Take a look at this, Candy. Some avid surfers out here waiting for the waves to pick up. They know that this is south and they know that this is where the waves will come. They want to be here.

This is one of the things that authorities here worry about are the people that want to have hurricane parties, they want to ride out the storm. They want to see what's going on. People are out here trying to get a look. Authorities here want everybody to stay indoors, stay safe. That's the best way to handle this storm, they say. Candy?

CROWLEY: Jim, when is it supposed to hit there?

SPELLMAN: Later this afternoon, but it's really intensified just in the last hour. They think around maybe 6 o'clock in the evening is when they'll feel the full force of it here. They're even warning people at hotels that the eye could come over Key West itself, to not be fooled by that if it suddenly gets calm. But it's going to build steadily as we're already seeing here through the afternoon, Candy.

CROWLEY: Jim Spellman, there's a hood on that jacket. You should use it. It looks wet down there. Thanks very much. We will get back to you --

SPELLMAN: Thank you.

CROWLEY: -- as we await the first landfall of the tropical storm. Right now we've got Joe Johns, he's somewhere outside this convention hall. He came to do the security aspect of this convention, sort of got swept up in the oncoming tropical storm, which may soon be a hurricane.

Joe, they now have sort of double duty, it would seem to me, here in Tampa and throughout the state of Florida. But when we're talking about the convention here in Tampa, they've got two jobs now, right, is sort of watching for whatever Isaac may bring here as well as keeping the bad guys out.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And sort of a continuum, if you think about it, Candy. The less storm there is, probably the more they have to worry about protesters and vice versa.

And talking to the authorities, of course, the weather right now is the big issue. Two things they're worried about, even though the storm is tracking farther west, probably the first thing is winds, high winds. A lot of concern about that, and then storm surge.

So if you get a bunch of high winds, certainly you're going to have a big problem here. They think they could be up to 40 miles or so.

The mayor of Tampa, I talked to him just a little while ago. He said, look. They -- close down on Monday is a pretty good idea as far as he's concerned. Just because of the possibility of the high winds going across Tampa's three major bridges.

The other issue is storm surge. That only occurs if that storm were to change directions or if it were to stall off the coast. Then they would get more and more water coming in here.

And if you look out here right on the riverfront, you can see outside the convention center, it wouldn't take that much for a bunch of water there to end up essentially where I'm standing. So they're expecting, though, that's not going to happen because that storm seems to be moving at a pretty good clip.

And they think they have this thing under control, but then, as you said, Candy, the question to protesters, and that is something for these thousands and thousands of police officers and even a few military personnel, National Guard, to have to deal with if they become a factor. Candy?

CROWLEY: Joe Johns, thanks very much. Appreciate it. So it's basically the Tropical Storm Isaac versus Mitt Romney's convention. So far Isaac is one up on Mitt Romney. This convention has been shortened by one day because of safety concerns.

When we come back, we're going to look at the political side of the with our Wolf Blitzer and Jim Acosta, also Republican National Commission Chairman Reince Priebus.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: On the eve of the Republican convention, our brand new CNN ORC poll shows a dead heat in the presidential race. Break down the numbers and you see the sputtering economy drags on the president while Mitt Romney's problem is the perception of Mitt Romney.

Consider the question who's more in touch with the middle class? Thirty-nine percent of likely voters said Romney; 53 percent, Obama.

Who's more in touch with women? Just about as vital a voting demographic as it gets, Obama, 60 percent; Romney, 31 percent.

Who cares more about people? Fifty-three percent Obama, 39 percent Romney.

We are back now with RNC chairman Reince Priebus.

Clearly there is a connection problem here that people are looking at your candidate and saying he doesn't care about people. He doesn't care about the middle-class. He doesn't care about women. He scores high on competence, low on compassion. What about this event changes that?

PRIEBUS: Well, I wouldn't make that conclusion just based on, you know, a single poll.

CROWLEY: Well, a lot of polls show that. I mean, this isn't, you know, an outlier or anything.

PRIEBUS: It shows that Obama in that poll has an advantage on those issues, it doesn't prove -- it doesn't say that people think that Mitt Romney doesn't care about the middle-class and doesn't care about women, it just says in those polls there is an advantage.

But let me get to the question. We have to tell the Mitt Romney story here next week. People are just getting to know Mitt Romney. Obama has been president for four years.

And I think it is incumbent on us to do two things. One, we still have to prosecute the president as far as whether he fulfilled the mission that he laid out in '08. And he didn't, But the second piece is telling the story about a man that is decent, honorable and gave away his father's inheritance, started something from nothing and created a great business. Five good boys. Saved the Olympics. Governed in a difficult state as a Republican and he was very successful. PRIEBUS: We need someone to fix this economy. And Mitt Romney is the one that can do it. But that is part of what a convention is all about.

CROWLEY: It is something that he's talked about a little and that others around him have talked about. I mean, certainly, they haven't shied away from this is a man who is generous, et cetera, et cetera, and hasn't taken hold.

At the end of these four days, after he gives his acceptance speech, what is anybody going to know that is different about Mitt Romney than they know now?

PRIEBUS: Well, I think they are going to learn about who he is as a person, who he is as a father and husband, who he is and why he believes that the American dream is alive and well. I think we have got a really optimistic message for America. I think that we are coming out of this as the party that believes in the American dream, that we believe that every child and every parent, Republican or Democrat, wants their child to be successful. We are the party who embraces success.

And I have got to tell you, I think that this sort of miserable glass half full America that Barack Obama is selling out there is not the America that parent's want for their kids. And I think we can take that message of the American dream and embracing success, and we can win on that message.

CROWLEY: Let me play you something that the president -- the president -- the governor and his running mate were in Michigan on Friday. And this is something that Mitt Romney said. Why don't you take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I love being home in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born. Ann was born in Henry Ford Hospital, I was born at Harper Hospital. No one has ever asked to see my birth certificate, they know that this is the place that we were born and raised.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: This blew up Twitter, it blew up the internet. People criticizing Mitt Romney saying he is putting that out there, because that, you know, is something that's like catnip to those who still don't believe that a president who has produced a legitimate birth certificate is really a citizen of the U.S. Is that helpful?

PRIEBUS: You know what, I think it is a nothing. You know, the fact is that Mitt Romney, myself, and from the moment that I became chairman and consistently Governor Romney has said that this is a non- starter, Barack Obama is born in Hawaii.

CROWLEY: So, but why even bring it up? I mean, I think that was the problem is that just when you bring it up you put it out there and you are a high profile guy, you're about to be the Republican nominee, and people think, this is playing to that group.

PRIEBUS: Well, first that wasn't what he was doing. I mean, he is a Michigander. He is making the point we are ahead in Michigan. We're doing well in these battleground states. And he's making the point I'm from Michigan. I was born here.

And you know what, have we really gotten to the point where we can't have any levity at all in politics? I mean, we have gotten to a place in politics that is ridiculous. No one can say anything that is remotely humorous and, you know, the president makes jokes about this all of the time. He plays these, you know, he came out to correspondents dinner a year ago and I mean, come on.

CROWLEY: He did. But the joke is on him, that is a little different than someone else.

But let me -- and it is a political year and you know how that is going to get taken.

But let me move you on to one other subject, and that is Todd Akin who has decided to stay in the race in the senate despite a lot of the mainstream Republicans saying he really ought to get out. This is the man who spoke about, quote, "legitimate rape," and about how women could shut down not get pregnant from a rape. I mean, just basically some nutty stuff.

PRIEBUS: I call it biologically stupid.

CROWLEY: OK. And how difficult does his decision to stay in the race make it for Republicans to seize control of the U.S. senate?

PRIEBUS: Well, I think that it is more difficult. I think that is very clear. I think that he should get out of the race. He has time to get out of the race. And I think he ought to put the mission of liberty and freedom ahead of himself. And right now...

CROWLEY: He says he is not going to.

PRIEBUS: Well, but he has got time and I think he should get out and so do a lot of others.

CROWLEY: But you think he could cost the Republicans the Senate?

PRIEBUS: Sure. Absolutely.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: I think that's pretty startling where he says, Yeah, he could cost us the Senate. I think that's another sort of shove.

But Jules Witcover wrote a pretty interesting column -- I think in the Baltimore Sun, I think that's where I saw it -- that just said, All this proves is how weak the party is, that there is a part of the party, in this case the Tea Party, that doesn't really want to play by old party rules, if it sees something else in its interest. Do you think this has a) made the party weak, and do you think Priebus really thinks there is still a chance that Akin can get out?

BLITZER: I think there is a chance he'll still get out. I think if the money dries up -- the Republican National Committee says they're not going to give him money, the Republican Senatorial --

CROWLEY: But won't all the anti-abortion groups give him money?

BLITZER: Yeah, but they're not going to be able to come up with the kind of money that I think the Republican establishment -- and I think Jules has a point: when the Republican presidential nominee, the vice presidetnial nominee, the chairman of the Republican party, virtually all of the Republican establishment and most of the Tea Party extablishment as well - Tea Party Express -- they've all urged Akin to drop out. He's not dropping out. What does that say about the power of that leadership?

ACOSTA: And I don't want to disagree with you too much, Wolf, but remember back in the 2010 midterm elections, even though Sharon Engle and Christine O'Donnell were damaged goods, they carried on with those campaigns and both came up short. It did not help their party.

BLITZER: The Republicans don't want to see that happen.

CROWLEY: Exactly. In fact, I think that is ringing in their brain, as they watch this play out.

Jim Acosta, Wolf Blitzer, stick with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back to a special edition of STATE OF THE UNION. We're sort of covering the confluence of events between a tropical storm and a Republican National Convention here. We've got some video, Mitt Romney, Sunday, went to church this morning.

And it reminds me that they will be, we're told, as they sort of lay out the story of Mitt Romney at this convention, that his church or his religious beliefs, at least, and how he carries out charity will be a part of this.

ACOSTA: That's right.

CROWLEY: As they try to -- it's not so much redefine Mitt Romney, but --

ACOSTA: I think they're reintroducing him to the American people.

And keep in mind, Candy, when reporters would contact Romney aides to talk about Mitt Romney's faith, earlier in this campaign, you know, you would get some pretty nasty e-mails back, saying why are you going there? We really don't want to talk about this. And I think this is -- so this is a shift for this campaign.

And what we understand is on Thursday night of the convention, there are people who are going to be coming up and talking about Romney's leadership at the Mormon church in Boston. And there are good anecdotal stories there about how he helped people through personal crises in their families. And so some of those folks are going to be getting up and talking about that.

Speaking of his faith, we understand this morning he and Ann Romney went to church in Wolfboro (ph), New Hampshire, and they both brought in their iPads to church. Mitt Romney reads the Bible on his iPad in services.

And on the way out, one of the poolers there -- press poolers overheard one of the staffers saying get the teleprompter guy ready. So in addition to going to church today, he's working on his speech.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you, I mean, I think you saw those numbers that I showed to Reince Priebus, which basically showed when it comes to those kind of personal attributes -- cares about women, cares about the middle class, cares about people -- the gap between President Obama and Mitt Romney is huge. And that's what they hope this convention is going to at least begin to ameliorate a little bit.

BLITZER: You would think if you saw those numbers, this would be a landslide.

CROWLEY: It tells you how bad people think the economy is really.

BLITZER: That's right because people think that they can relate more to President Obama than Mitt Romney, that he is better equipped it deal with middle class issues or women's issues. You'd think it would be a landslide, but it's neck and neck if you look at the likely voters in our latest CNN ORC poll, which does confirm that it still is the economy.

These other issues may be important, especially in a close race, but when all is said and done, it's going to be jobs.

CROWLEY: And, you know, again, it does seem to be a -- people seem to look at him well in terms of competence.

ACOSTA: Yes.

CROWLEY: It's the compassion part that they need to get across here.

ACOSTA: And Candy, you and I both know from covering this campaign and Wolf as well that they have been saying for months and months, our issue is the economy. We're going to be talking about the economy. And it sort of got away from them this last month. And the overseas trip --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: (Inaudible) talk about the economy is a lost day for them.

ACOSTA: And the day that they don't do that is a lost day for them. And then they got into this Akin controversy and Paul Ryan and Medicare.

And so they -- and then the birth certificate thing on Friday. So they haven't really been focusing on the economy.

On the flip side of that, it's interesting by focusing so much on the economy, perhaps they did not get voters out there to focus enough on who Mitt Romney is, and try to get folks to like him more. I think that was perhaps something that they neglected and they are trying to correct that now here at the convention.

BLITZER: On the Mormon issue, though, I've always felt that that was a bigger issue -- and you covered the primaries -- the primaries and the caucuses among Republicans themselves, evangelical Christians to be sure. In a general election, I don't think this is going to be a big issue.

CROWLEY: Stick with me. When we come back, we want to talk about how many people out there have made up their minds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. We want to put some quick numbers up on the board to kind of give you a little hint of the state of this race.

Asked whether people have decided and have totally made up their minds about who they're going to vote for, 87 percent of likely voters say they've made up their mind; 11 percent said they could change their mind. Well, in a horse race, 11 percent is much bigger than just the swing vote that's undecided. If you can change somebody's mind, this is the place to do it.

BLITZER: Start to start doing it, and you know what else will do it? Those three presidential debates, one of which you will moderate in October. So the pressure, Candy, is going to be --

CROWLEY: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: -- on you. You're going to do an excellent job. We have total confidence. But it's those debates, I think, as important as these two conventions are, I think the three debates and the one vice presidential debate will be even more important in potentially changing people's minds.

CROWLEY: I think so, too, because I do think that over the course of an hour and a half, you get an idea of who a person is a little bit.

Remember how much it mattered when George Bush looked at his watch?

ACOSTA: Right, right.

CROWLEY: Now was it fair?

BLITZER: A little thing like that.

CROWLEY: Who knows. But in a close race, it made a lot of difference. But I think here they have this sort of unfiltered way of saying listen to us about who we believe Mitt Romney is. So it's a huge chance with some people still with open minds, enough people to change this race dramatically.

ACOSTA: Not to bring this back to Hurricane Isaac or Tropical Storm Isaac, or whatever he is right now, this is becoming almost a missed opportunity for Mitt Romney and the Republicans if this becomes a serious storm. We understand it's going to cross the Keys, head into the Gulf and then, after that, who knows?

But if this blows out -- and it's already going to blow out Monday night -- and then starts sucking up all the air time and the oxygen Tuesday night into Wednesday night, that's going to intrude on this party's opportunity to reintroduce Mitt Romney to the American people.

Make no mistake, Candy and Wolf. They want to get Mitt Romney, Ann Romney, those five sons and all those grandkids and Paul Ryan, Ms. Ryan and all those kids, up on that stage Wednesday night, Thursday, as much as possible up on those screen, because they want people at home to realize that Mitt Romney's more than just the guy over at Bain Capital.

BLITZER: Especially to those 11 percent that either have made up their minds but are still switchable or haven't even made up their minds. It's hard for the three of us to appreciate the fact that for millions of people out there, they haven't been paying much -- we're obsessed with this, but a lot of people, they haven't really started paying all that much attention.

CROWLEY: That's absolutely true.

ACOSTA: And it's kind of amazing to see that number about the 11 percent, because if you look at the way these two campaigns have been fighting this race over the last couple of months, it has been scorched earth with almost no regard for the voters in the middle. They've just been firing up their base. I don't think they realize, there are a lot of folks out in play out there.

CROWLEY: Jim Acosta, Wolf Blitzer, thanks for hanging out with me on a Sunday afternoon here in Tampa. I appreciate it.

Up next, a little view from the other side. Martin O'Malley, Democratic governor from Maryland.

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CROWLEY: One of many Democrats who will be following the Republican convention is Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. I spoke to him earlier this morning.

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CROWLEY: Governor, thanks for being here. I think that you heard our previous panel talk about the need for them to expand the party, but they believe that in the next 75, 76 days they can do that. In fact, that is kind of what this convention is about is kind of opening up the party and letting voters see what Republicans are about.

Your reaction? O'MALLEY: Well, I think it is going to be very hard, though they will try to reinvent Mitt Romney and try paper over some of the more extreme comments he has made about immigration or women's rights, but I think that will be very difficult.

Candy, what people are going to see very clearly, simply in the pictures, that come into their living rooms of these two conventions is a party of exclusion and a party of inclusion. The Republicans have kind of painted themselves into a kind of a real demographic corner, if you will. And you hear people like even Jeb Bush even saying that they have the change for the long-term, because the view of white Anglo-Saxon American, a true American, on questions where I was born sort of thing is really off putting to those of us who believe that our diversity is our strength, that we are nation of diversity.

CROWLEY: Well, governor, it is absolutely true that the president has joked I think over the past two couple of White House correspondents dinners that I have been there, he has joked about the whole birth certificate thing, can't you just take this Mitt Romney at his word, he was joking. He was in his hometown of Michigan, what is so wrong with that?

Have we lost, quote, our sense of humor as one of the previous guests suggested?

O'MALLEY: Well, I think that what it betrays, though, is a loss of and a lack of perspective and an appreciation that when you have policies and when you advance positions that are bashing of new Americans and new immigrants, when you have policies that want to take us back in terms of women's rights and freedom of women to choose, I think it becomes a very exclusive party and that birther comment is simply more -- is more icing on that cake.

I do think, though, that the real issue of this campaign is going to be about...

CROWLEY: I'm sorry, what do you mean more icing on what cake? What did you think that the birther comment was about?

O'MALLEY: I think the birther comment when you combine it with Mitt Romney's other comments, the comments he made abroad about the president not truly appreciating when he was in England the Anglo- Saxon perspective in the world, when you put it together with his anti-immigrant policies and the things that he has said, I think that what it reveals is a sort of perspective on America that would take us back to the days of Ozzie and Harriet rather than recognizing that we are in fact a strong people, because we are a diverse people.

We are people who believe that every individual has and should have the opportunity to succeed, and that opportunity expands in our country when each of us has the ability to make it in America.

CROWLEY: Is that code for you think he is appealing to the white vote? O'MALLEY: I think that his -- I think, well -- I think that their party in fact is a party that has a problem as Jeb Bush has said with being an exclusive party, a party that makes comments about women's rights, about immigration, about even basic voting rights.

I mean, look at the number of their Republican governors who have signed bills who make it harder to vote. When you have a party that says coded things that makes totally false adds up about falsely saying that the president is trying to undo welfare reform, I think you are going to see a lot of pretty heavily and not so subtly coded messages from the Romney/Ryan campaign that it's not in keeping with an America that is going forward and becoming more diverse with fuller freedom for every individual.

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CROWLEY: The road to Tampa and the massive effort to get ready for the big bash. That's next.

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CROWLEY: And finally, in the past year and a half, no fewer than six Republicans led the race for the Republican nomination at one point or another. They were all led by the same North Star, all headed right here.

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FORMER PENNSYLVANIA SENATOR RICK SANTORUM: We are going to win this nomination in Tampa.

BUSINESSMAN HERMAN CAIN: I'm going to get the Republican nomination and become president of the United States.

FORMER SPEAKER NEWT GINGRICH: We're going to go on to Tampa and win the nomination.

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're doing some counting. We're counting up the delegates for the convention, and it looks good.

CROWLEY (voice-over): Mitt Romney will accept the Republican nomination Thursday. And despite the primary season ups and downs, the 20 debates, the breathless field, the horse race, there was always some part of us that knew it would end here with him. A CNN ORC poll taken in June showed 42 percent of Republicans thought Romney would be at the top of the ticket. Only two other Republicans hit double digits, and they didn't even end up running.

So here we are inside the "Tampa Bay Times" Forum on the eve of the Republican Convention, at the end of which the presumptive nominee can drop the "presumptive" part. The signs are hung, the balloons are in the rafters, the backdrop is in place.

CNN has been planning its convention coverage for months. Our crews have been working nonstop here in Tampa since early this week so we can bring you today's show and all the others you will see as part of our in-depth coverage in the coming days.

We don't publicly thank the people who do the heavy lifts around here often enough, but we'd like to do so now. When you watch our programming, you are watching the work of a dedicated, hard-working, sleep-deprived team of CNN producers, technical crews and engineers. We thank them for making it happen.

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CROWLEY: Thank you for watching STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Candy Crowley in Tampa, Florida. Stay with CNN throughout the week for wall-to-wall coverage of the Republican National Convention and Tropical Storm Isaac. "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" starts right now.